Overcoming Challenges on the Way to a Degree in Psychology
It is no secret that a rewarding career in psychology will take hard work and a commitment to academic pursuits. In order to be a licensed therapist, counselor, social worker or psychologist, you will be required to earn a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and in some cases, a doctorate. Such an undertaking will take persistence born of conviction; unwavering concentration and emotional balance. But do not let these challenges keep you from achieving your dreams. While the educational agenda and personal stamina necessary may appear daunting; there are scores of successful counselors, therapists, social workers and psychologists who overcame significant educational and personal obstacles on the path to realizing their full potentials. We consulted with 4 of our profiled Experts in hopes they would share their personal victories over college-related as well as subjective challenges. Here is what they said.
Kristen Martinez, M.Ed., Ed.S., LMHCA, NCC, went to the University of Florida where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. She decided to attend her alma mater for her Master’s Degree and graduated from the University of Florida’s Counselor Education program; focusing her graduate education on the LGBT+ population.
I think my own self-doubt was my biggest obstacle to overcome (and in some ways, still is). I had moments, days, weeks where I felt like I couldn’t go any further mentally or academically. It was all too tempting to throw in the proverbial towel. I constantly compared myself to the people around me, and I inevitably failed to measure up in some way or another. In my counseling program, I never thought I was half as insightful or quick-witted or empathic as any of my peers, even though they told me I was all of those things and more. I just couldn’t see it. I felt like I didn’t have anything figured out, especially in a field like counseling where you don’t see quick results of your impact on clients. You may leave a lasting positive impression on so many of your clients, but they may not ever think to mention that to you. All I heard in my program was “trust the process”, and boy, was it frustrating sometimes, but I try to keep the phrase in mind even now because it is so true. You do the best you can, and at the end of the day, that’s all you can do.
Dr. Jeff St. John has been featured on many syndicated TV and radio talk shows where he has discussed a large variety of self-help topics. His widespread knowledge has earned him the nickname of “The Dish Dr.” for his uncanny ability to “dish” about a seemingly unlimited variety of subjects. He has a Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy; is the author of over 50 self-help guides, is a health and fitness expert, a certified gourmet cook and a celebrity commentator. His expertise is accentuated by the fact that he himself lost over 100 pounds in his quest for excellence. His books include: The Dish Dr.’s All Holiday Guide to Fun, Festive Foods: 101 Recipes for Every Celebration; and The Dish Dr.’s Celebrity Guide to Personal Happiness & Success: Better Living through Self-help, Celebrities & Skinny Drinks.
Dr. St. John’s experience is unique because he learned that too many motivational cues in one’s personality can prove to be just as harmful as the corresponding paucity:
My biggest challenge for me was to slow down. I was so driven to achieve my Ph.D. that I went full speed ahead – so much so, I had to get a special waiver from the college to sign up for as many classes as I did. I completed both my masters and Ph.D. in almost 3 years by the time I was 27 years old. While it was quite an accomplishment, it also landed me in the hospital for several days due to stress, exhaustion and severe chest pains. It was there that the doctor’s told me that although I was young and fit, that if I kept going at the pace I was running, I would literally be setting myself up for a heart attack and certain early death.
Dr. David Barker-Hargrove was born into a working poor family; and to his credit was the first person in the family to go to college. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Columbia College (while on active duty in the United States Navy); his Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology from Troy State University and a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Barry University. Much like Kristen Martinez, Dr. Barker-Hargrove encountered personal quandaries;
Curriculum was never really a problem for me. I absorb material well and write well, so I don’t remember struggling with course work. For me the hardest part was keeping faith in myself. I was very afraid I would spend all this time and money on my education and never be able to get a job or develop a successful practice. At one point early on in my doctoral program, I was temping as an accounting clerk for a large corporation. My greatest fear was I would be stuck in corporate America with a useless Ph.D. in counseling psychology and I would have to remind the other temps in the break room to address me as “Dr.”
Profiled expert Marianne Clyde, MFT, is a Holistic Therapist, and author of the books Peaceful Parenting: 10 Essential Principles and You Are One in a Million: The Art of Asking Questions That Produce Results as well as the creator of the meditation CD, Moments of Mindfulness. As with the rest of our polled experts, Marianne remembers personal issues being significant on her journey to becoming a licensed therapist;
I never liked school; although I got pretty good grades and never really had any major educational goals. I just sort of went with the flow. I think my biggest challenge was not academic, but that I operated from a long held belief (as a middle child) that “I don’t matter.” I did not discover until many years later that one false belief colored my view of the world with a dull gray. It was not until I changed that belief, as I now teach my clients to do, that I started living in full color.
Without exception, our experts agreed that the main challenges to achieving their career goals were personality driven or emotionally based. As an aspiring therapist, counselor, psychologist or social worker, these revelations can provide you with a significant sense of relief. Your self-doubt and trepidation are normal—even the experts have been through it. You can additionally glean from their experiences the necessary forethought regarding the need for self-care and outside support while you are transforming your aspirations into reality. You can begin now to proactively seek out guidance and beneficial introspection as well as rest in the knowledge that ultimately, you are not alone. As the popular commercial demonstrates; shared experiences from successful professionals in the field are, without a doubt, priceless.